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2.7: Chapter Summary

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    This chapter is devoted to the assumptions and theoretical considerations that lie behind the framework of ways of being religious. The framework assumes the context of the modern academic study of religion and, within that context, phenomenology of religion in particular. That context, as far as this book is concerned, aims to promote and carry on an objective study of religious phenomena in the round, a study that fuses objectivity (a meaning of objectivity appropriate to the study of religion) and empathy. The point is to do justice to religious phenomena in the round, taking seriously all relevant perspectives onto them, above all, the perspective(s) of insiders. To accomplish this task, a relatively neutral framework of generic categories must be devised and employed, in which comparative studies can proceed without privileging the ultimate convictions of one tradition over another.

    A working definition of religion is given as a system of symbols (e.g., words and gestures, stories and practices, objects and places) that participants use to draw near to, and come into right or appropriate relationship with, what they deem to be ultimate reality. The phrase ultimate realityo thus becomes a placeholder or variable standing for whatever the people of a given tradition take to be the ultimate ground of meaning and purpose in life. Insofar as the distinctive function of religion is to draw near to ultimate realityo, religion in general presupposes a certain distance from or disrelationship with ultimate realityo. That disrelationship is identified as the problem of meaning. Each of the ways of being religious in effect address a different aspect of the problem of meaning-which helps account for why some people (when they have the option) are drawn to one way rather than another.

    What primarily distinguishes religious traditions from each other are their core systems of symbols, each of which includes a set of sacred stories and, if the tradition is a literate one, a canonical scripture (or set of scriptures). Systems of religious symbols inherently have multiple meanings and layers of meaning, allowing for multiple interpretations-within certain limits. Different meanings disclose themselves to different hermeneutical orientations. One subtradition differs from another often on the basis of a different hermeneutical orientation that is connected with a specific aspect of the problem of meaning and its correlative way of being religious. Further variations in interpretation and practice are due to a host of factors, but among them special note is taken of variations in quality of practice. In this respect, the worthiness of respect due a particular example of religious practice stems primarily not from the symbol system in which it resides and not from the way of being religious it exemplifies but from the way both are taken up by participants and lived out.

    A generic way of being religious is one characteristic manner and pattern among others of drawing near to and coming into right or appropriate relationship with ultimate realityo. It is distinguished from the other ways by its mode of approach to ultimate realityo, the aspect of the problem of meaning it most directly' addresses, the orientation it takes to the interpretation of the stories and scriptures of a tradition, typical forms of social structure and organization, and specific sorts of virtue and vice to which it is subject. The framework of generic ways of being religious thus identifies certain commonalities shared between religious traditions that otherwise might be profoundly opposed, especially commonalities between participants in the same generic way of being religious. These commonalities constitute a basis of religious common sense, which in turn is a basis for making sense in common between persons of differing faiths.

    This page titled 2.7: Chapter Summary is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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